Mark Steel: Prescott shouldn't have to quit over this

It would be like jailing Fred West for failing to pay the VAT on the cement
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The Independent Online

Many people are appalled at the cynicism of the woman making herself around £100,000 for selling her story of an affair. But from a trade union point of view, when you think what she had to do, surely this was nowhere near the rate for the job. No one begrudges higher wages being paid to oil rig workers, or people who defuse unexploded bombs, so surely the pay scale must include extra when the poor woman has had to clamber over John Prescott.

It probably didn't even help if she shut her eyes to think of something else, because if he said anything during proceedings it would so obviously be him, as he groaned: "Oh, Tracey, keep that be doing in as much as it is with loveliness."

I hope he doesn't have to resign over this issue, as it would be farcical, meaning you can get away with being deputy leader of a government that sends its country into war on a pack of lies, but have it off with a secretary and you're beyond the pale. It would be as if Fred West had been jailed for not paying VAT on the cement.

Prescott has held his position for years, because Blair's clique think he has "the common touch", a representative of those who still call themselves working class. The truth of this depends on how you judge whether someone is working class, and there are conflicting views. Marx, for example, suggested it meant those who had no choice but to sell their labour to capitalists. Others believe it comes down to your education or your aspirations. But no one before has ever put forward the theory that it means being fat and getting your words wrong.

Whenever Blair has seemed to face trouble from the trade unions, he's used John Prescott to persuade them to back down. Which has left the union leaders making statements such as: "Our talks have proved extremely valuable, in that the redundancies and pay cuts are now to be announced in a Yorkshire accent."

So you could say that Prescott has been vital to Labour's strategy of abandoning its working-class roots. Except New Labour has not only abandoned them, it's decided there isn't a working class at all any more, as we're all middle class these days.

When Margaret Hodge was seen on the news touring her constituency, she seemed like a different species to those who live in the run-down areas from which she was casting for votes. You imagined if someone complained about the state of their damp flat, Hodge would say: "Oh yes, it's dreadful, but I can help. Here's the card for a splendid interior designer, he specialises in embracing space and boundaries, and he's available for only £2,000 a day."

Hodge has concluded that erstwhile Labour voters are considering voting for the British National Party. And these fascists certainly hope to capitalise on the sense of Labour's betrayal. That is why they promote themselves in these areas as a working-class party, with an air of "We understand you if no one else does."

One reaction to the possibility of a rise in the BNP vote has been to simply denounce those attracted to them as idiots, and lament: "How can they? I mean, didn't they see that wonderfully powerful exhibition at the ICA of multi-ethnic triangles?"

But it's the sense that no one speaks for them that can make people vulnerable to BNP arguments. Which is why it's vital to insist they are a fascist party. Nick Griffin has been prosecuted for inciting race hatred by disputing that the Holocaust took place, and its co-founder, the late John Tyndall, was once an open admirer of Hitler.

Griffin once responded to a victory for his party by saying: "The electors of Millwall ... voted for what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan, 'Defend Rights For Whites', with well-directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not rational debate." Maybe in his local election leaflet he'll follow that up with: "As well as directing boots and fists, Nick would like to see less litter behind the bus station."

It's testimony to the traditions in most working-class areas that the BNP, with their simplistic racist arguments, have not grown much in recent years in the neglected estates. But maintaining opposition to their growth depends on exposing their true nature, in the way that the campaign Unite Against Fascism has done, and understanding that it's impossible to counter an argument, no matter how repulsive, without seeing the rationale for its appeal.

Because all actions have some logic somewhere - except for those of Tracey, the diary secretary, who has defied all previous human experience and reasoning, and all for around £100,000.